Iraq As UAV Proving Ground

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

Hazelwood said that UAVs now flying in Iraq already are operating in the equivalent of Class B airspace. Balad Airbase, near Baghdad, "goes 24/7, 365 days a year [and] intermingles armed aircraft, medivacs, commercial aircraft, Fedex, and 20 to 30 UAVs everyday, all day. It has never had a UAV accident," he said. But some close calls have occurred, he added. Nevertheless, he said, "I am not sure that I buy the argument that we can't fly in the National Airspace today. Maybe we don't meet the stringent FAA requirements to fly in Class B, but we do fly in Class B airspace every day in Iraq." Currently, FAA rules most often keep UAVs (most recently prized by border patrol advocates) and manned aircraft separate. If the military wants to fly a UAV in civil airspace (outside of Special Use Airspace or Military Operation Areas), the FAA must approve each request individually. Generally such use requires coordination with air traffic control and the operator must maintain constant visual contact with the UAV. Alternatively, the FAA can establish a TFR, as it has done over parts of the U.S. border with Mexico, where separation is achieved by keeping civil air traffic out. The FAA has said that in order to fly in civil airspace, UAV operators must address two main safety issues -- control redundancies must be in place in case communication is disrupted or the operator loses contact with the vehicle, and the UAVs must have reliable "detect and avoid" capability so they can sense and avoid other aircraft. At a congressional hearing in March, AOPA's Andy Cebula expressed strong concerns about mixing UAVs with manned aircraft, and also said closing off airspace via TFRs is not an acceptable solution.